Kohl Condo Planning Board Hearing Deferred to January; Conservation Commission Hearing Still on for December 11

Northampton’s Planning Board reports today that it will defer its hearing on Kohl Construction’s application for a Special Permit and Site Plan Review to January. We’ll get you the exact time and date when it’s announced.

Kohl’s proposal will still be heard by the Conservation Commission on December 11, 5:30pm, in the City Hall Hearing Room (210 Main Street, 2nd floor). Enter via the back door. All concerned citizens are urged to attend. Here’s how the agenda item reads:

Notice of Intent filed by Tofino Associates, Inc. and Northern
Avenue Homes, Inc. for the construction of twenty-five dwelling units
and associated roadways, parking areas, driveways, sidewalks,
utilities, landscaping and stormwater management system. Project is
proposed to take place in the 100-foot buffer zone of Bordering
Vegetated Wetlands. Project location is Northern Avenue, Map Id 25C-12
and 25C-17.

See also:

Kohl Construction Applies for Special Permit and Site Plan Review

Kirby on the Loose: “Condo project off North St. files for permits”
The final plans show that backyards, patios and walls will come within
12 feet of the bordered vegetative wetland. This will be the first
so-called in-fill project to take advantage of the changes in our
zoning in many commercially-oriented zoning districts. Permitted now is
reducing the “no-encroachment zone” around wetlands from 35 feet to 10

Just Released: Planner’s Guide to Wetland Buffers for Local Governments (emphasis added)
[Environmental Law Institute:] Enacted local government buffer ordinances show
a wide range of wetland buffer dimensions. The lowest
we found was 15 feet measured horizontally from the
border of the wetland
, with the highest approximately
350 feet. Several ordinances set 500 feet as a distance
for greater regulatory review of proposed activities, but
do not require nondisturbance at this distance. Often
the ordinances provide a range of protections, with
nondisturbance requirements nearest the wetland and
various prohibitions and limitations as the distance
from the wetland increases. Among the ordinances we
examined, the largest number of ordinances clustered
around nondisturbance or minimal disturbance buffers
of 50 feet or 100 feet
, with variations (usually upward
variations) beyond these based on particular wetland
characteristics, species of concern, and to account for
areas with steeper slopes.

Flood and Natural Hazard Mitigation Plan: Floyd Flood Damage Reported
Behind View Avenue; Avoid Building on Filled Wetlands

Mike Kirby: “The Meadowbrook Chronicles Part One”
Meadowbrook story has many important facets. Of particular interest to
us are the consequences that can follow from building homes near

The developers built 255 units of affordable
apartments there. They crammed them in everywhere they could, pushing
them up into the bluffs, and close to the creek and wetlands. No
backyards to speak of. One third of the buildings were built within 50
feet of the wetlands, 63% of the buildings are within the customary 100
feet of wetlands.

None of the buildings have cellars under their
apartments. If they have cellars, there are people living in them. The
cellar floors in the basement apartments in Buildings #4 and #2 are
lower than the surrounding swamp. Some slabs have cracks in them.
People have been flooded out. No moisture-proof barriers between the
surrounding earth and the foundations. Moisture and mold percolate up
into people’s apartments via the chases that hold utilities. If you
wonder why low-income children are afflicted with a whole host of
respiratory diseases, you have to look no further than the children of
the floor level and basement apartments of Meadowbrook…

Easthampton Flooding Hazard: Snow-Clogged Storm Drains
“If the water has nowhere to go, it’s going to find somewhere to go… The slush really clogs [storm drains].”

Snow and Slush Expose Limits of Storm Drains
…”The rainfall carries floating slush to a catch basin,” said Amherst
Public Works Superintendent Guilford Mooring. “We clear something up
and it clogs up again. We’ve been working since last night.”

for Easthampton Public Works Superintendent Joseph I. Pipczynski: “It’s
just a nasty storm,” he said. “You unplug the basin, they go down the
street, the slush covers the basin again and you’ve got another lake…”

Greenfield’s Quarter-Million-Dollar Flooding Fix Includes Razing a 4-Family House

The September 27 Republican
reports that the city of Greenfield will buy and raze a 4-family house
on Beacon Street to resolve persistent flooding problems there:

“The deal will allow the city to avoid the costly
installation of larger culverts to keep an underground brook from
flooding the property…

“The development has eliminated a large amount of land that used to absorb rainwater, but now just sends it on to the brook…

“The total bill for the project is estimated at $252,300, including purchase, demolition and [detention] pond creation…”

This story illustrates why it’s unwise to encourage
development in flood-prone areas, and unwise to compromise natural
drainage systems. Inviting developers to pave and build close to our
in-town wetlands, as Northampton’s new wetlands ordinance does, is not smart growth, and may require costly interventions in the future.

Paved Surfaces, Salt and Water Bodies: A Bad Mix

Gazette: “Region’s storms going to extremes, report finds” (12/5/08)

New Hazards Mitigation Plan Reflects Weakened Protection for Wetlands
Unfortunately, the City Council voted 7-2 in 2007 to permit development in multiple districts to encroach as close as 10 feet to wetlands. In a rapid shift of priorities, facilitating urban infill was now deemed more important than flood mitigation, water pollution control, or urban greenspace. The proposed condo development off North Street is a good example of a project that relies on the narrowed buffer zones…

The claim that allowing development within 50 feet of wetlands can
still give effective protection does not bear up under scientific
scrutiny. As Hyla Ecological Services noted in 2007:

“Buffers of less than 50 feet in width are generally
ineffective in protecting wetlands. Buffers larger than 50 feet are
necessary to protect wetlands from an influx of sediment and nutrients,
to protect wetlands from direct human disturbance, to protect sensitive
wildlife species from adverse impacts, and to protect wetlands from the
adverse effects of changes in quantity of water entering the
wetland…” (Castelle et al., ‘Wetland Buffers: Use and Effectiveness’,

“Buffer function was found to be directly related to the
width of the buffer. Ninety-five percent of buffers smaller than 50
feet suffered a direct human impact within the buffer, while only 35%
of buffers wider than 50 feet suffered direct human impact. Human
impacts to the buffer zone resulted in increased impact on the wetland
by noise, physical disturbance of foraging and nesting areas, and
dumping refuse and yard waste. Overall, large buffers reduced the
degree of changes in water quality, sediment load, and the quantity of
water entering the adjacent wetland.” (Castelle et al., 1992)

…Most striking in the [Environmental Law Institute] report is that some locales desire wider
buffers in areas of intense land use to address the higher levels of
pollution and runoff. By contrast, Northampton has its narrowest
buffers in these areas.

Earlier this year, NSNA engaged Hyla to
compare Northampton’s new Wetlands Ordinance to the regulations in
other cities across Massachusetts. Hyla found that Northampton is now an outlier. In the entire state, it’s hard to find anything similar to our 10-foot buffer zones for new development…

“…it is forecasted that, Massachusetts,
and the rest of New England, is long overdue for a major hurricane to
make landfall. Based on past hurricane and tropical storm landfalls,
the frequency of tropical systems to hit the Massachusetts coastline is
an average of once out of every six years.” (Hazards Mitigation Plan, p.28)

The Prince of Wales: Value Complexity, Respect Nature, Avoid Technological Hubris